I first met James some time ago with Gucci . James is an outcast, “trash” of our society. Someone that fell off the wagon somewhere, someone who missed the plot somewhere, and someone who is blindly judged on a daily basis for “whom” and “what” he is.
You see, James is homeless too. Every day he goes about his business, pushing his cart wherever he goes. His worldly possession stuffed in a backpack, the cart for whatever he can collect. James goes from trash can to trash can, from restaurant to restaurant collecting empty cans, bottles, pieces of trash to turn into lunch, perhaps dinner too if it is a good day! Whenever I cross paths with James, he is always smiling and always has a kind word to share. His melodic voice with Hollywood accent always carries the sound of laughter; there is always a joke to share. Often, when I need a perk up, I’ll seek out James and know without a shadow of a doubt that he’ll make me laugh.
James is a human being. His blood pumps through his organs in exactly the same way as it does for you and me. James has dreams and hopes that he clings to. He hopes for a family and a job. Any job will do. James gets angry at striking workers. James loves animals. James is grateful to be alive and healthy. James is a person with a heart, mind and soul.
A couple of months ago, Dino showed up. It was your typical male ego situation: Dino the homeless white guy, James the homeless colored guy, staring down each other. Watching the situation unfold and develop over the next 2 – 3 days was funny and sad at the same time. Dino wanting to make some cash, desperate, cold and hungry. James protecting his territory and the little bit of money he makes. It took a couple of days before James took Dino under his wing, showed him the ropes and allowed him to work as long as they shared all takings. A trio was born.
After Gucci’s departure, the bond between Dino and James strengthened and they look out for each other as if they were blood brothers. They share every cent and every morsel of food. They had built themselves a shelter under a bridge and at night they take turns to sleep and stand guard. Then they got themselves a dog and Bruno shared in their food and shelter. Now at least, they could both sleep and Bruno stood guard. Bruno was treated as a parent would treat a child. He was well-fed and as healthy as can be. At night, when they were directing cars, Bruno would sit in the cart watching over their belongings, barking like a rabbit dog at anyone who dares to come close. Then about two weeks ago, Animal Welfare came round and declared that “that is no way for an animal to live” and promptly took him away! James was devastated and spent the evening silently crying, his spirit broken. Life goes on and they went back to taking turns sleeping and watching over their gear.
Last night it was incredibly busy and they were running around like headless chicken. At some point a customer asked James to run around the corner to buy him cigarettes. James happily obliged, knowing that there was an extra tip in it for him. Sadly though, it was not a good idea.
On his return, James found that his backpack had been stolen. Bruno was no longer there to stand guard. Dino was busy and didn’t see a thing. James had been relieved of his only earthly possessions. All he has left are the clothes on his back. James stood there, shattered and defeated. Knowing that it would rain later, he just stood there, speechless. James had no words, James had no power left to kick or scream or put up a fight.
I went home last night crying, my pajamas constricting around my chest, my throat rejecting the food, my bed uncomfortable and the memory of the money I had won earlier in the day leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.
What have we become? Can we really be proud of a society where we judge others based on how they look or where they are on the social ladder? When did it become acceptable to disregard people or to simply ignore them? What makes us better, gives us the right to decide whether they are worthy of our response? Would it really hurt to take 5 minutes out of your hectically busy day to get to know the person behind the card board box you walk past every day? Would it really hurt to take 30 seconds to smile and greet someone walking past?
These words from the Dalai Lama puts it together better than I could ever wish to do:
The many factors which divide us are actually much more superficial than those we share. Despite all of the things that differentiate us – race, language, religion, gender, wealth and so on – we are all equal concerning our fundamental humanity. Recognizing our shared humanity and our biological nature as beings whose happiness is dependent on others, we learn to open our hearts, and in so doing we gain a sense of purpose and a sense of connection with those around us. Our world and our lives have become increasingly interdependent, so when our neighbor is harmed, it affects us too. Therefore we have to abandon outdated notions of “them” and “us” and think of our world much more in terms of a great “US”, a greater human family. Along with love, compassion is the face of altruism. It is a feeling from deep in the heart that you cannot bear others’ suffering without acting to relieve it. As compassion grows stronger, so does your willingness to commit yourself to the welfare of all beings, even if you have to do it alone. You will be unbiased in your service to all beings, no matter how they respond to you.